Scientists create plant-based sensor to monitor the levels of arsenic in the ground

This can be used for environmental monitoring and for food safety since arsenic is a common contaminant for agricultural products as rice, vegetables and tea leaves.


Scientists from MIT have now developed a plant nano bionic optical sensor that will enable them to detect and monitor toxic heavy metal arsenic in real-time. According to a release by MIT, scientists from the Disruptive and Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) research group at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) engineered the novel type of plant nano bionic optical sensor. Researchers say the development provides significant advantages over conventional methods that are used to measure arsenic in the environment.

 Scientists create plant-based sensor to monitor the levels of arsenic in the ground

A novel type of plant nanobionic optical sensor can detect and monitor, in real-time, levels of arsenic in the underground environment. Image credits: Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology; Christine Daniloff, MIT

According to them, it will be important towards environmental monitoring and agricultural applications for food safety since arsenic is a common contaminant for agricultural products as rice, vegetables and tea leaves.

Speaking about the discovery, lead author of the study, Tedrick Thomas Salim Lew said that the plant-based nanosensor is notable for the significant advantages it confers over conventional methods of arsenic levels in the below-ground environment and requires less time, equipment and manpower. According to Lew, they think that innovation will see wide use in the agriculture industry and beyond.

As per researchers, once the optical nanosensor detects arsenic, it changes its fluorescence intensity and provides a non-destructive way to monitor the arsenic's internal dynamics taken up by plants from the soil. Embedded within the plant tissues, the optical nanosensors enable plants to convert to self-powered detectors of arsenic from their natural environment.

According to co-author and principal investigator Professor Michael Strano, it is a hugely exciting development since this is the first time a nano bionic sensor that can detect arsenic has been developed. According to him, it will help plant scientists in organisations such as TLL to produce crops that resist uptake of toxic elements.


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